Hike New Hampshire
Trips in NH

Owl's Head

By Steve McGilvary

Hike Length: 20 miles

Trails: Wilderness Trail, Franconia Brook Trail, Lincoln Brook Trail, Owl's Head Slide Path

Date: June 21, 2002

Weather and trail conditions: Perfect day! Weather in the low 60s early morning, but quickly rose to mid 80s and stayed there all day. Clear skies, a bit humid. Trails in good shape; Lincoln Brook Trail quite muddy. Mosquitoes bad at times.

Total miles hiked: 20 miles

I wanted to kick off the start of summer with a nice long trek through the Pemi Wilderness to secluded Owl's Head Mtn. Ever since I started on the list of 48 last summer, I've had a particular fascination for the wild & remote peak. And since Friday was shaping up to be the best day of the weekend, I took Friday off to bag this legendary 4000er.

I pulled into the Lincoln Woods parking area around 7:30 in the morning. I didn't waste any time. I threw on my backpack and got truckin'.

I was well prepared for the day. I was carrying 2.5 liters of water and 1 liter of OJ, a couple power bars, an apple & orange, a bag of dried figs and dates, and peanut butter & crackers. I also packed one other indispensable item that made all the difference: a towel. I read about the river crossings and figured I'd be doing some wading. I knew I didn't want to pull dry stockings back on over wet feet.

The first leg of my hike began on the very broad & level Wilderness Trail just across the Pemi River from the parking lot. I had the entire 3 mile section of this trail all to myself. The sun was filtering through the trees and the whole place looked very pretty and peaceful. It pays, however, to walk on the very edges of this thoroughfare. The trail follows along the bed of an old railroad, and wooden ties poking several inches above the ground can send you sprawling if you're not careful.

After crossing Franconia Brook, I turned left off the Wilderness Trail and picked up the narrower Franconia Brook Trail. Further on I connected with the muddy and narrower still Lincoln Brook trail which diverges northwest in the direction of the Owl's Head Slide Path.

I hiked through a corner of the Pemi Wilderness a couple weeks ago, but this was the first time that I ever penetrated to the heart of this forest. I remember looking down on these woods last summer and earlier this year from atop the peaks that ring the Wilderness. Now I was traipsing right through all the streams and ponds and bogs that weren't visible through the treetops. I especially enjoyed stopping at the ponds and bogs. Everything is bright green and so alive. Dozens of white & pink Lady Slippers flanked the trails in these wet and spongy areas. And toads! Seemed like I couldn't walk 3 yards without almost stepping on one. I also couldn't help but notice all the moose sign. Huge hoof prints were everywhere! I expected to see a moose around every bend in the trail. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I didn't see any Bullwinkles.

I made several small stream crossings without any delay or difficulty. Two crossings of the Lincoln Brook, however, required bare feet. I was careful and choose sections where the water didn't reach much above my knees. The cold water on my feet and legs felt excellent on this hot & humid day! And I felt pretty smart for bringing the towel along. The only downside to these river crossings came when I had to stop and dry off on the opposite banks. Mosquitoes bit the Hell out of me anytime I stood still for more than 30 seconds.

The 9 mile hike out to the base of Owl's Head is relatively level, and I arrived feeling fresh and ready for the climb. There are no written signs telling you that you've arrived; but a conspicuous, decent sized cairn on the right side of the trail clearly marks the beginning to the Owl's Head Slide Path. It's 1 mile from here to the summit.

I literally couldn't see the forest for the trees all day. Not so on the slide path. I had clear, wide open views of nearly the entire east side of Franconia Ridge. The sun was beating down hard on this exposed area, so I chugged a lot of water while I slowly & cautiously made my way over the loose rocks. Eventually, the rocky slide path gives way to a wooded one that leads the rest of the way to the summit. The AMC Guide says this trail is unmaintained, but obviously folks have been doing recent work on it. With the exception of a few easily negotiable blowdowns, this trail was in fine shape. I saw my first fellow hikers of the day about 15 minutes from the summit. It appeared to be a father with his 2 teenage boys. They were coming from the summit back towards the slide. The father looked like he was having a good time. The boys were bitchin' about the rocky descent that awaited them. We all chatted for a few moments, then I pushed on. I've read that hikers routinely swipe Owl's Head signs as souvenirs. I was hoping that I'd find at least one sign marking the summit for my photo album.

I finally reached the wooded summit of Owl's Head and, low and behold, a summit sign marked the spot! I was glad to see that no one pilfered it. I took off my backpack and started taking pics. Afterwards, I sat down and polished off the rest of my orange juice, a power bar, and some dried fruit. I was just getting ready to start back down when another hiker, Keith R. from Connecticut, popped out on the summit. Keith left his 2 other buddies at the base of the mountain and ascended alone. He was real friendly, and we talked about the area and hiking for nearly 10 minutes. I took his pic by the Owl's Head sign and promised to email it to him. We then descended together. I met up with his 2 buddies, identical twins, at the base of Owl's Head and we all talked for about 15 or 20 minutes. This is an annual event for them. They were camping out for the entire weekend and planned to reach 13 Falls Tentsite that night, maybe bag Garfield on Saturday, and then come back down the Franconia Brook Trail on Sunday. Cool! We all tanked up on water, shook hands, and parted company.

Surprisingly, I wasn't that tired, and the long haul ahead of me didn't seem that daunting. I passed about a dozen hikers coming in on the Lincoln Brook & Franconia Brook Trails. Everyone looked like they were planning to stay the night. I kind of regretted that I wasn't doing the same. Oh well, another time, perhaps.

I arrived back at the car around 5:00. I was supposed to rendezvous later that night with some friends at Hermanos in Concord. I knew on the way home, however, that I was going to be too beat to mingle at the local watering hole. I just went home, ate a can of refried beans, and crashed. An exhausting day, but definitely one of the best, most satisfying hikes I've ever had.


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